The researchers from Northwestern University in the US said the findings, though early, could help inform how pregnant women should be clinically monitored during the pandemic.
Researchers have found evidence of injury in the placentas from 16 women who tested positive for COVID-19 while pregnant, pointing to a new complication associated with the deadly disease. The type of injury seen in the placentas shows abnormal blood flow between the mothers and their babies in the womb, according to the study published in the American Journal of Clinical Pathology.
The researchers from Northwestern University in the US said the findings, though early, could help inform how pregnant women should be clinically monitored during the pandemic. “Most of these babies were delivered full-term after otherwise normal pregnancies, so you wouldn’t expect to find anything wrong with the placentas, but this virus appears to be inducing some injury in the placenta,” said Jeffrey Goldstein, assistant professor of pathology at Northwestern University.
“It doesn’t appear to be inducing negative outcomes in live-born infants, based on our limited data, but it does validate the idea that women with COVID should be monitored more closely,” Goldstein said. This increased monitoring might come in the form of non-stress tests, which examine how well the placenta is delivering oxygen, or growth ultrasounds, which measure if the baby is growing at a healthy rate, said study co-author Emily Miller, assistant professor at Northwestern University.
“Not to paint a scary picture, but these findings worry me,” Miller said. Previous research has found that children who were in utero during the 1918-19 flu pandemic, which is often compared to the current COVID-19 pandemic, have lifelong lower incomes and higher rates of cardiovascular disease, the researchers said.
Flu doesn’t cross the placenta, Goldstein said, so whatever is causing life-long problems in those people is most likely due to immune activity and injury to the placenta. “Our study, and other studies like it, are trying to get on the ground floor for this exposure so we can think about what research questions we should be asking in these kids and what can or should we do now to mitigate these same types of outcomes,” Goldstein added.